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A Tale Of Two Managers: How A Customer Service Fail Turned Into A Customer Satisfaction Win

By October 1, 2012June 26th, 2015Marketing Insights & Strategy
A Tale Of Two Managers: How A Customer Service Fail Turned Into A Customer Satisfaction Win

Sunday at the movies.

We go early because we don’t like crowds. We don’t like to compete with kids running in the aisles and guys on cell phones and giggling gaggles of teenage girls.

We get there before noon, stock up on sodas, popcorn and pretzels. This substitutes for breakfast and lunch so we’re totally into our snacks. We hoard them until the start of the movie so we don’t run out too early and end up with nothing to do with our hands for an hour but tap the armrest.

This Sunday we went to see Looper which, if you haven’t seen it already, is worth two hours of your time. Finally, a time travel-based movie that doesn’t ask you to puzzle out the consequences of disrupting the space-time continuum but just lets you enjoy the plot!

Alas, if I had a time machine I could go back into the past and impart these words of wisdom before the theater management completely screwed up my experience.

But let’s look on the positive side because this is a lesson we can all learn something from, no matter our business.

A Seat, A Snack, And…. We Wait.

It started out well. We got our snacks and even the hot dogs were ready to be served (not as common as you might think). We got the perfect seat. The theater was more crowded than usual, but appeared mercifully devoid of children and giggling girls. We were precisely, to-the-minute, on time for the beginning of the movie.

We popped a kernel into our mouths and waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

No background music, no previews, no before-the-movie trivia questions to entertain us. Just this message:Tale Of Two Managers Movie Theater ScreenAnd more waiting. Five minutes into the waiting we put down the popcorn.

Ten minutes into the waiting we snuck a peek at our cell phones for the time.

Fifteen minutes into the waiting a guy at the back of the theater yelled that he’d just gone out to ask what was going on and was told someone was working on the problem.

We gazed longingly at our chilling hotdogs and waited.

The First Manager’s Tale: A Big, Fat {   }

Twenty minutes later, not sure when or whether something would happen and not willing to be that person who walked out to ask again (and possibly miss the beginning of the movie), I used my cell phone right there in the movie theater and called… the movie theater. I spoke to the customer service department and told them we’d been waiting for 20 minutes and that nobody had been in to tell us what was happening. The customer service rep assured me that a manager was working on the problem. I said, “That’s nice, but nobody in here knows that. Everyone is getting crabby and impatient. You need to send someone in here to give these people an update.”

The customer service rep said, “Ok.”

Another five minutes went by and nothing happened.

During the 25-ish minutes that we waited, one guy turned up the rap music on his phone, which irritated at least a few of us.

Some other guy got on a “this is what happens with my cable company too and they all suck” soapbox and took the opportunity to yell (over the rap music) about his poor movie watching experiences.

A number of less linguistically inspired folks at the back just started yelling out random 4-letter words at the gods that made this all happen.

When at last something did happen, it was a bizarre “your desktop has crashed and needs to be rebooted” message that made me wish not for the last time that I had a time machine and could whip my camera out to snap it before the screen went black again.

By the time the previews started I hated whatever movie was unfortunate enough to appear there first and swore never to see it. Fortunately for the movie, I never caught what it was because the curtains had failed to retract fully and were blocking my view.

Most people grumbled or swore through the next 15 minutes.

By the time the movie started, 35 minutes later, neither a manager nor customer service rep had made even the most cursory of appearances.

Cold hotdogs? Check.

Warm soda? Check.

The Second Manager’s Tale: Picking Up The Pieces

Did I mention it was a really enjoyable movie? Good thing, too, because I had the blog written before it even started and might have made the next manager’s life a lot less pleasant if on top of it all, I’d wasted my time and money.

Never ones to be satisfied with keeping our mouths shut, we found a manager after the movie and told him the story.

We told him that someone in the theater had gone to request an update. We told him that we’d called and requested one. We told him that the theater patrons were asserting their displeasure in sometimes uncomfortable ways.

The manager looked us in the eye and listened to our complaint. He nodded. He said things like, “I can understand your frustration” and “I’m sorry that happened” and “I wasn’t here at the time but I’ll speak to the manager on duty about it so it doesn’t happen again.” He concluded with “Here are two passes for a free movie” and asked us to return to give them another chance.

He didn’t get defensive. He didn’t throw the first manager under a bus in solidarity. And he offered a solution – with compensation – to remedy the situation.

In the end we walked out completely satisfied with our faith in humanity restored.

A Lesson For Customers: If You Don’t Complain The Right Way, Don’t Complain At All

I’m of the belief that if you don’t like something but never take appropriate action, then you have no right to complain at all.

So many people complain about a company, a product, a service or a person but never actually take that complaint to its source. They stew, they yell at whoever is in the room at the time of the offense, maybe they kick the dog later.

But people, if you’re a customer of a business that doesn’t treat you well then you need to let them know. You don’t need to let them know angrily or in 4-letter words. You can be polite and completely rational. But if you say nothing, then nothing will change.

I dare say that getting good customer service is your responsibility. Would it be nice if every company was unquestionably ethical, flawlessly concerned and perfectly on their game? Sure. But when they’re not it’s incumbent on you to expect and demand it.

If a business fails in its customer responsibility, it’s up to us to hold it responsible. Otherwise we’d all better get used to shutting up and dealing with it.

A Lesson For Businesses: Being Proactive Is Always Better Than Being Reactive

By the time we’d complained to management, they were in reactive mode.

We told the second manager, to the greater point, that the time delay wasn’t the problem. The wait wasn’t the problem. Even the 4-letter words were not the problem (though I can’t speak for everyone in that theater).

The problem was that nobody bothered to tell us – even after we asked – what was happening. Nobody bothered to mitigate an escalating problem. Nobody bothered to tell us what to expect.

I bet I speak for a lot of us when I say that if you make me wait unexpectedly and without explanation for five minutes I’ll get cranky, impatient and hostile.

But if you tell me what to expect – heck, I’ll sit there happy as a clam for an hour if I have to. If I expect to.

The theater could have prevented the entire issue if someone had walked in and told us they were having trouble getting the movie running. Even if they’d told us they had no idea how long it might take, but they’d keep us updated every five minutes, I bet a lot of people would’ve been a lot happier and it wouldn’t have cost them two movie tickets.

I imagine two movie tickets isn’t the worst that could’ve happened. In reality, were we going to take our movie-going business elsewhere? Probably not. But somebody might. What if they lost a patron for good? What if that disgruntled person told a friend, or the entire blogosphere? The cost of two tickets might not seem like such a big deal then.

And all of it completely preventable if they had simply taken control of the situation and proactively told their customers what to expect.

The Big Picture: Expect The Best For Yourself. Give Your Best To Others.

When it comes to business, there’s no head-in-the-sand approach that will work. Not for you as a customer, and not for you as a business person.

I know how hard it can be to attack a bad situation and believe me, I’m far from squeaky clean when it comes to service. I’ve had many “Manager #1” moments. I see a looming deadline, I know I’m going to miss it, I hope my client won’t notice. I think about calling, but I’m afraid to… I don’t want to be the one to break bad news or let someone down and I don’t want someone to get angry with me. The deadline comes and goes, I don’t make the phone call, then the client starts calling me. Now I’m mortified so I ignore the phone. I go MIA.

Yeah, that happens. I remind myself every day to take control before a bad situation controls me. I wake up every morning and run down a list of things I can do to mitigate even the most improbable of bad outcomes. Sometimes I win and sometimes I lose.

When I lose, I get to be “Manager #2” and react. I’m in fix-it mode. I don’t like that mode but if I want to stay in business and keep my customers happy, I’ve got to do it. Sometimes it costs me time and sometimes, like a free movie ticket, it costs me money.

And I thank my customers for holding me accountable and making sure that I don’t fall into complacency.

Being proactive beats out being reactive for me every time. I bet you agree.

So next time it looks like something is going – or might go – wrong, think about the Tale of 2 Managers and decide which one you’d rather be. The one who’s fixing problems? Or the one who’s preventing them?

What do you think? How do you deal with sticky customer situations?

Join the discussion 14 Comments

  • Annie Sisk says:

    Great post, Carol – and can I just say I admire the hell out of you for admitting the ugly truth: we ALL have those days – the missed deadlines, the sticky sitches with clients. It’s how we handle them that separates the pros from the wanna-bes.

    • Thanks, Annie. I have plenty of “those days”. But you’re right, it’s about how we deal and what we learn. Sometimes I learn but still don’t learn if you know what I mean! You just gotta keep reminding yourself to get up and do better.

  • Adrienne says:

    Yeah, I wouldn’t have been very happy either and I wouldn’t have enjoyed the rap or the four letter words. I would have been like you though and let someone know of my displeasure and the fact that they didn’t let anyone know what was going on. Just having one person walk in and advise everyone would have been a tremendous plus on their part.

    Treat your customers with respect and make their experience worthwhile because things go wrong. Just don’t leave them sitting there twitling their thumbs thinking the worst. You walked away with a decent experience but I’m sure not everyone can say the same thing.

    Glad you enjoyed the movie and the popcorn. A movie isn’t a movie without popcorn.


    • Ya got that right… it’s not a movie without a big, artery-choking bucket of popcorn. Now that I think about it, I think they should’ve given me free popcorn, too 🙂

      But seriously, it’s so silly to let a bad situation get worse, especially when someone (me) ASKED them to come help out. A lot of aggravation could have been prevented. But then I wouldn’t have had a blog post. So it’s all good in the end.

  • Hi Carol,

    what a great story…I like the take about taking responsibility as a customer.

    The story reminds me of situations I’ve encountered with the German railway company. A train stops, between two stations in the middle of nowhere, and no one tells you what’s going on. On another day, you might wait at the station and the train doesn’t run at all. The official explanantion via loudspeaker:”Operation delays”.

    Aha! This could mean anything, right ?

    All too often, explanation from companies why something went wrong are mere excuses.

    Thanks for sharing your insights.



    • Wow, that’s even worse, Oliver, because you’re essentially trapped with no way out until further notice! If that was me I’d go crazy. I’d probably travel a lot less or find a different way to get there.

      A lot of times you do get excuses. That was one thing I appreciated about the manager I talked to which is that he simply apologized and didn’t try to explain or make excuses. He just addressed it, and that was a nice change.

  • Hi Carol, You had me hooked on your every word in this story. At least you had a blog post cut out for you 🙂 don’t you love writing? I totally agree with your analysis of the situation. Good gracious, doesn’t the management of theater would know that it’s better to be ready to let people know what’s going on asap rather than being on the defensive side trying to deal with angry customers whom you have neglected? You would think, anyway. As far as customers, I love your point. If you are not going to complain the right way, don’t complain at all. At least you will save yourself from the side effect of anger. Because you did the right thing, you’re got free tickets. As far as the ones who wasted their breath swearing they’ve got nothing. Thanks for this great story and analogy 🙂

    • You really would think they would be prepared to manage things better. After all, it can’t be the first time something went wrong! I know that complaining to a manager doesn’t always fix the problem, but yelling at other people NEVER fixes the problem. Best to take your complaint to the source!

  • Lisa Buben says:

    Yes, always better to attack the situation before it turns into a bad one. Sometimes unavoidable but how you handle a bad one can determine the future success of business too. Yelling doesn’t work for sure- usually complicates or makes it worse. Best not to blame and just fix it.

  • That has happened to me, but luckily they came in and made an announcement considering it was the opening night of a movie and the place was packed. In regards to sticky situations like that, I have been on that other end. When I worked as a dispatcher, we were constantly held to our “time” statement that we said we would arrive at a customers house in 60 minutes, but when we had high call volumes and long wait times, I was proactive.

    Telling me when to expect the plumber if I already knew I was backed up was better than lying to a customer just to get them in the cue. I saw other dispatchers say other wise and hung us in the process. Getting yelled at for saying one thing, when we could have warned them ahead of time was much more appreciated. People understand when times are busy and its nice giving them the choice to either wait or move on.

    That might not sound great to a manager because they want to capture every call, but what good is pissing off a potential customer and tell them you going to be there in 60 minutes when you know before hand that the wait is more like 2 hours. I never agreed with that logic, but I understood it. It made for a lousy work day and added more stress on the technicians when they finally arrived to the customers house. Most times it resulted in a lost sale or a b—–chy customer. No one wants to work with crabby customers. I don’t, but it happens..

    Great post Carol…I couldn’t wait to see what was said next. Movies are never nice to mess with when patrons pay too much for a movie ticket as it is.

    • You’re absolutely right and I’ve been on the waiting end of those scenarios too. I’ll wait, but someone has to tell me how long. Don’t say you’ll show up at a certain time and then two hours later I’m still wondering what’s happening. It’s so easy to make a simple phone call, send an email, or in the case of the movie theater, send someone in to talk. It takes less than a minute. And it avoids all sorts of problems, like you said, either a lot of stress or really crabby customers. I don’t understand why a simple thing is so overlooked!

  • Carol MInarcik says:

    Hello Carol, I enjoyed this story, as I have been in many similar situations and surely know the frustrations. Great Job as I felt your disappointment as I was reading.

    • I know that a lot of customer complaints could be mitigated with a simple proactive action or acknowledgement. It’s amazing that there are still people who haven’t figured that out yet!